Saturday, February 13, 2016

Library Loot: The First Half of February

New Loot:
  • Illusion by Frank Peretti
  • Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
  • My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson
  • An Instance of the Fingerpost by Ian Pears
  • An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd
  • Dance! Dance! Underpants by Bob Shea
  • Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig by Deborah Hopkinson
  • My Name is Mahtob by Mahtob Mahmoody 
  • The Detective's Assistant by Kate Hannigan
Leftover Loot:
  • N or M? by Agatha Christie
  • Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  • The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
  • Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones
  • Blood Royal by Eric Jager
  • A Sudden, Fearful Death by Anne Perry
  • Freedom's Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark by Katherine Mellen Charron
  • The Natural World of Winnie the Pooh by Kathryn Aalto
  • The Sign of the Cat by Lynne Jonell
  • Truman by David McCullough
  • Nurse Matilda the Collected Tales by Christianna Brand
  • The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon
            Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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First Love

First Love. 14 Warm and Glowing Stories Selected by Gay Head. 1963. Scholastic Book Services. 188 pages. [Source: Bought]

First Love is a vintage collection of short stories compiled by Gay Head for Scholastic in 1963. All of the stories chosen had been previously published in magazines. Most of the stories first appeared in the 1950s, though a few come from the 1940s and early 1960s. (If Barbie were real, this is the kind of book I could see her reading.)

The theme of this collection, is, of course, first love or young love. Some of the stories are narrated from the girl's perspective; some are, however, narrated from the guy's perspective. There is a pair of stories "Sixteen" and "Eighteen" that go together. "Sixteen" by Maureen Daly tells the girl's side of the story--how she went skating one winter's day, was suddenly grasped around the waist by a cute boy, and how they skated and chatted together for what seems like hours. He walked her home. He said he'd call. But he never did. "Eighteen" by Charlie Brodie tells HIS side of the story. Most of the stories are not interconnected.

One of my favorite stories is "Prelude" by Lucille Vaughan Payne. Essentially, this is a clean version of Valley Girl that predates the movie by quite a few decades. Nancy Hollister, the heroine, falls for Stephen Karoladis to the dismay of her popular friends. He is an absolute genius when it comes to music, playing the piano, to be exact. Nancy feels about music the same way he does--it's like they are meant to be. But. He is poor--really, truly poor, work after school as a janitor poor. He will never dress like her friends. And he'll never be able to afford to take her out to the places that her friends go with their dates. But the connection they feel is true and deep and strong. What will happen when he asks her to the prom? Will she go with him knowing that her friends will laugh and mock and bully?! This short story doesn't conclude with "Melt With You" but it ends well all the same! Since I'll never watch Valley Girl again, most likely, I'm glad to have found a clean alternative that puts a grin on my face.

Another favorite story is "Theme Song" by Dave Grubb. In this one, a young girl falls for a soldier with a broken heart or "broken heart." He's received a letter that "his girl" has taken up with someone new. Though there was a time he loved playing "their song" on the jukebox over and over and over and over again...he discovers that the "B side" of the record had never been played....much to Edith's delight. Hearts mend, and new love stories begin...

One of the more unusual stories in this collection, one that brings to mind the Sesame Street song "One of These Things Is Not Like the Other," is Epicac by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. This "romantic" short story is about a machine--a computer--who falls in love. It's more complicated than that. The narrator and the computer both fall in love with the same girl. And it's a science-fiction twist to Cyrano de Bergerac if you will. (The computer writes the poems that make the girl fall for the narrator.)

Essentially readers who discover this vintage, out-of-print, title will discover a LOT of variety. Each story is unique. Some stories are a bit odder than others.

"Blue Valentine" by Mary Gibbons comes to mind! In this story, a guy with great intentions doesn't think through his gift choice. Angelo, the hero of the story, is essentially a good, thoughtful guy. He wants his Valentine's Day gift to his girlfriend to be extraordinarily WONDERFUL, the best of the best, the best that his money can buy. But this gift gets him in BIG TROUBLE with her family. His choice? Well, Gibbons left that a mystery for readers to solve until the last few pages of this short story--probably for some shock value. So I'll do the same.

Another 'odd' story, for me, was The Walnut Trees a story about a girl's BIG, BIG crush on a teacher. (Hint: Don't cut your teacher's yearbook photo out and put it in a heart locket. It is SURE to fall off, open, and HIM be the one to pick it up and hand it back to you!)

Each story has a description of sorts, or tagline. I'll include these for each story:
  • Stardust by Virginia Laughlin: Her heart went into orbit when she looked at him...
  • A Girl Called Charlie by William Kehoe: She thought that her whole future depended on one date...
  • Blue Valentine by Mary Gibbons: Angelo found the wrong gift for the right girl...
  • The Walnut Trees by Virginia Akin: A dream can be fashioned from cobwebs...
  • Once Upon A Pullman by Florence Jane Soman: Instant charm was not his secret of success...
  • Epicac by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: Can a machine fall in love? This one did...
  • Sixteen by Maureen Daly: As she saw it...
  • Eighteen by Charlie Brodie: His side of the story...
  • Prelude by Lucille Vaughan Payne: Music gave her the answer...
  • Tomboy by Gertrude Schweitzer: She thought parties were stupid until one special night...
  • Bittersweet by Arlene Hale: It takes time to forget...
  • Who is Sylvia? by Laura Nelson Baker: Her name was like a haunting melody...
  • Theme Song by Dave Grubb: The young soldier might be the answer to Edith's dreams...
  • Tough Guy by Peter Brackett: He wore a chip on his shoulder to hide the secret in his heart...
Though the taglines might seem over-the-top ridiculous, the stories in this book were actually quite good and in some ways timeless. Some are better than others, I won't lie. But there were a few I really LOVED. And overall, it was even better than I thought it would be.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Peppa Pig and The I Love You Game

Peppa Pig and the I Love You Game. 2015. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: "It's Valentine's Day!" says Mummy Pig.

Premise/plot: In celebration of Valentine's Day, Peppa Pig and her family name all of the many, many, many things they love. For example, Daddy Pig loves to make pancakes and George likes dinosaurs, or dine-saw, as the case may be. Peppa may just be the most vocal in the family. She names DOZENS of things that she loves. What will top her list? Can you guess?

My thoughts: I liked it well enough. I don't really think any Valentine's-Day themed book is going to top my best of list. But Peppa Pig is cute, fun, adorable. I love, love, love the TV show. And I'm almost always glad to see new picture books being released starring Peppa and her family. Anyone who enjoys the show will find this one fun, in my opinion. However, if you've never, ever seen the show, then this picture book will probably not quite work for you. Part of the fun is HEARING the characters talk and knowing their stories and backstories.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Rise of the Wolf (2016)

Rise of the Wolf. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2016. Scholastic. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I was excited to read Rise of the Wolf, the sequel to Mark of the Thief. (I did not reread Mark of the Thief in order to 'prepare' for this one. But after the first two or three chapters, I found myself managing just fine to remember the characters and the details.)

Nic is the hero of the story. He's a former runaway slave who is now staying with his sometimes-good-sometimes-quite-evil grandfather, Radulf.

Livia is the younger sister of the hero. She is not as defiant perhaps as Nic, but, she is more loyal to her brother than her grandfather. (The two did just meet their grandfather, and they know that he was plotting against Rome.)

Aurelia is probably the strongest female character in the book, and Nic's potential love interest as well. She is resourceful, stubborn, and never backs away from a fight. Nic mostly trusts her intentions, but, sometimes--only sometimes--would prefer her to stay far, far away from the danger.

Crispus is someone Nic has a hard time fully trusting. He is Valerius' son. Valerius was a tricky sort of 'friend' to Nic in the first book. Nic is jealous--does he have cause?--that Aurelia is friends with Crispus. Crispus declares himself mostly-mainly loyal to Nic, unless, Nic should suddenly become a traitor-ish threat to the Roman empire, in which case Crispus would have a hard time still supporting him.

Radulf is a Roman general. His loyalties are definitely questionable. He's power-hungry, ambitious, and not above using his grandson to get what he wants. He doesn't make the best first impression...or second impression. When the book opens, readers learn that he chains his grandson up at night in his room so that he can't escape.

The Praetors. The super-bad guys who are after Nic for the entire book. They want Nic to give them the key so they can find the MALICE. And once they have the MALICE and the BULLA, they want Nic to make them a JUPITER STONE. These are all magical items that wield great power and threaten to destroy life as everyone knows it--completely upsetting the Roman empire.

The plot is simple: As Nic continues to learn and use magic, his life is threatened by the Praetors. If the Praetors didn't have his mother as prisoner, Nic might consider running away from his problems with his sister and friends. But. He wants to save everyone he loves. And this leads him into dozens of confrontations with the bad guys. He has dozens of close-calls. A few of these close calls involve chariot races. But not all of them. There is a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE battle at the end. And the book ends in a crime-worthy cliffhanger.

So did I like it or love it? I think I found it super-compelling as I was reading it. I found the ending frustrating because it was just WRONG to end the book the way she does. But. I found it action-packed and interesting. I mentioned that Aurelia was a love-interest, but, I want to point out there is more action than romance. There are one or two scenes where feelings are discussed, but, it is far from being a romance novel.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Big Whopper

Big Whopper. Patricia Reilly Giff. 2010. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Big Whopper is the second book in Patricia Reilly Giff's Zigzag Kids series. The books are loosely connected, I believe, by the fact that all the main characters attend the same school, Zelda A. Zigzag elementary school. But the books do not share main characters. The book is narrated by Destiny Washington.

The theme this week for the after-school program at the school is discovery. Students are being encouraged to share what they've discovered with others on an art-project in the hall. Destiny Washington, the heroine, is discouraged and frustrated. She doesn't think she'll have even one discovery to share with others. In general, she's having a hard time of it. A few poor choices have her really down. Can she find a way to turn things around? A secondary story focuses on a cat...

While I enjoyed this one slightly more than the first book in the series, I still can't say that I am enjoying the series overall.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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